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July 2011: Women Empower Themselves ~ and One Another

MabiliaAt 19 Mabilia began to work with women in her country of Guatamala.  She was passionate about women becoming self-sufficient and saw micro-credit as a key resource for them to do that.

“I was shy,” she says.  Nevertheless she went door-to-door talking with women about how they were providing for their family and explaining the benefits of micro loans for starting or expanding their cottage businesses.  Within two months she had three groups of 25 – 30 women, meeting in her home.

Micro-credit meetingFor seven years she worked as a micro-loan officer with FAPE, (see description of this organization at the end of the story.) helping women learn business skills, and always encouraging them to develop personal savings accounts. “I learned so much during this time,” Mabilia says.  “My own life had been hard.  I worked along with my Mom and Dad, but I had a chance to go to school.”  She saw that the women with whom she was working were trying to empower their family.  There was much violence and very little education.

After seven years, Mabilia accepted a Coordinator position, managing the micro-loan activities of several towns.  In this position she could influence policy and she continued her strong push to help women develop savings accounts.  Although the four loan officers whose work she coordinated were certain the women who were repaying loans could not create savings, Mabilia was even more certain that they could.  Under her influence, after one year, the women were happy because they could see their savings were growing.  They understood the value of having this savings available for family emergency or working capital.

worry dolls and weaving

While deeply aware of the impact of micro-loans in enabling women to better provide for their families, Mabilia and her organization also recognize that the loans themselves are not an adequate single solution to a better life.  They are continually seeking to work wholistically with the women they serve.  They teach basic skills such as reading and writing. They educate the women about the need for insurance so there can be on-going care for the family in case the woman dies or is unable to work.  They seek ways to provide health service and health education.  They provide training in business topics such as how to make a plan for their business.  They help women recognize how much of their own energy ad skill they invest in creating their products.  “I didn’t know my own value,” women often say.  “Yes,” Mabilia observes, “these women empower themselves and one another.”  They learn to support each other.  They learn to work together. They experience a great sense of solidarity.

This solidarity was demonstrated in a very visible way when Mabilia’s organization encouraged women to participate in demonstrations on International Day Against Violence.  Though may of the women were unable to read or write, they could share their experiences.  Their increased self-respect enabled them to require respect from others.

“No Violence Against Women!”
“No More Violence!”
“We are Women!  We Can Do Many Things!”
“I Need respect!”
“I Deserve Respect!”

Over 300 women participated in this celebration – 200 in one village and 100 in another.

Their key experience – “I thought I was alone.  Now I know that is not true.”  Violence in the home is common, and knowing one is not alone prompts courage to say “No More!”  It is not only poor, uneducated women who experience such violence.  It is also present in the lives of educated professional women.

Traditionally, men were expected to own the home.  The role of the woman was to get married.  It is very hard if a woman leaves her husband.  It is difficult without a home.  But some women do this.

Mabilia has had opportunities to attend conferences, and to learn about women’s rights.  She also was an iLEAP Fellow, spending three months in Seattle in 2010.  Her iLEAP experience she says, strengthened her passion and opened her mind to new ideas.  It helped her understand the power of collaboration and to realize the impact of her leadership and her role in helping others develop their leadership.  “I have a wonderful team of young women doing their job, and I try to make sure they understand how valuable their leadership is in every community where we work,” she comments.

She also enhanced her appreciation for the power of women working together.  She gained confidence.  “I can help other women!”

Record keepingMabilia is seen as a leader, an example of a woman who knows her own value, and contributes in a meaningful way to her community.  Recently a mother confided to her, “I want my daughter to get an education and have a job like you, not just get married.”

Mabilia speaks of her gratitude for the opportunities she has had.  “It is so important to me to focus on the purpose of my life and to never lose faith in people.”  Acting on her passion, holding true to her own values, continuing to learn ~ Mabilia demonstrates the creative power of women’s leadership.

Mabilia and familyYou may contact her directly at:

Mabilia’s Organization:
Fundacíon de Asistencia para la pequeña Empresa (FAPE) is a private, non-profit organization with an objective to provide small loans to small business owners. FAPE was founded over 25 years ago with a strong social mission to help improve the lives of Guatemalans living in poverty. FAPE works primarily with women and in communities with little or no access to traditional credit and financial services. FAPE also incorporates entrepreneurial trainings and encourages saving in an attempt to drive improvement in both business and at home. FAPE partners include Namaste & KIVA.

Photos are courtesy of Stephanie Bilings, iLEAP Program Coordinator (